Disabled Drivers Obtaining A License And A Car28 Aug 2009
My Story- If you are in a wheelchair, depending on the degree of disability of course, you can usually get a licence. You just need to do your research, so here is my story on getting my licence and setting up my car with modifications to hopefully help you, because if you're anything like my family and I when I was getting my licence, we had no idea where to start.
Personally, I have brittle bones which means my bones break very easily, this comes with all sorts of obstacles to do with getting a licence. Firstly there's the fact that if I have an accident I'm almost guaranteed to be hurt, and secondly, I'm very short so there was a problem getting me to see over the steering wheel.
I had to get a medical form from the RTA, which had to be completed by my Doctor, who had to state that I was fit to drive. I had to see an occupational therapist to be assessed, (which included reflex tests, hand and eye co-ordination tests and memory tests), once I got the all clear, I sat for my L's and got them.
I was then required to have about 10 one hour lessons with a driving instructor, as part of my 50 hours of practice driving, that every L-plate driver completes. The car had modifications fitted, (because I was getting ‘disabled' lessons, these lessons cost around $10 - $15 more than a ‘normal' lesson, even though the exact same car was used for both lessons). My first driving lesson was with Funway which is located in the Hawkesbury area in NSW, I was required to drive around a driving course that simulated a real road, situated in a large car park. They said I was a natural and so I began my driving on real roads.
I wanted to mainly practise in my own car so that I could get used to everything, luckily my dad was able to help me with my first car purchase.
It could only be automatic and had to be modified, all up, it came to around $2000 just for the modifications. It is very expensive and can vary in prices depending on each person's needs. Unfortunately, there is no funding available from the government whatsoever.
For mine, I had hand controls, a wheelchair hoist to put my chair on the roof, a foot rest, a booster seat and a smaller steering wheel with a forklift-like turning knob to make it easier to steer. I recently upgraded my car from a 16 year old Toyota Corolla, to a 3 year old Toyota Yaris, which I am very happy with. With this, came a whole new set of modification obstacles.
Most of the devices I had in my old car, were able to be transferred to the new car, I also had to get some extras as it was a newer type of car.
Wheelchair Hoist- To put the old hoist on, a set of roof racks which cost about $400, had to be added to secure the hoist to the roof, because of this, it makes my chair sit quite high and it hits some car park roofs (therefore, I would not recommend a Yaris if a hoist is required as they are very high cars). We weren't aware of the hoist issue at the time of my new car purchase, so the best thing to do is, when contacting the conversions company, ask them what the most common car is that they convert, that way, you'll have an idea whether or not a hoist can go directly onto the roof or if racks will be required.
I then had a switch installed to operate my hoist which cost about $300, so I could operate it without plugging any cords in. I highly recommend this, as I had no switch in my old car, which involved me opening the door, plugging in the switch, then holding my finger on the ‘down' button until my chair was lowered to the ground, (this is not fun in the pouring rain). Now, with the new switch, I can lower my chair as far as I can with the door shut, then open the door to position my chair before it reaches the ground, I don't have to plug anything in as the switch is permanently attached to the plug that runs from the cars battery.
I have also had other problems with the plug, once when I was driving over the Iron Cove Bridge in Gladesville NSW (which is a very large bridge in Sydney), I left the plug in as I did sometimes whilst driving, as I went over a bump, the switch clicked to the ‘down' position and commenced the lowering of my chair onto the road at the very top of the bridge where I and many other cars, were doing a speed of 80km/hour, I had people honking their horns at me and flashing their lights before I realized that my chair was hanging down next to my window and was about to hit the road, I pulled over in the left lane of the bridge, stopping all traffic, I had to raise my chair back onto my roof. I think it's quite funny now, as did my mum, using it as a story to tell at my 21st which got many laughs.
Another problem I had with the plug, was that it had to be plugged into the car's cigarette lighter, this occasionally overloaded the connections and shorted out the fuse, this left me with my chair being stuck on the roof. Once, I had to plug my cord into a stranger's cigarette lighter just to get my chair down whilst out shopping on my own.
Another time, my mum, her friend and I had a bright idea to just ‘cut' the strap that lifts the chair up and secures it to the roof. This is definitely NOT recommended, as the hoist acts as a giant spring. Once we cut the strap, my chair got flung across the driveway like a catapult, luckily, my mum had just moved away from the car or this could've resulted in serious injury as it opened the hoist with extreme force.
Airbags- I also did some research on airbags before purchasing my new car, they reportedly come out at a speed of 300km/hour, this alone would be enough impact to crush me so, I asked for the air bag to be removed. I found out, in case I ever want to re-sell the car, the airbag cannot be removed by law, but an airbag disabler can be installed. This cost around $1000 to install.
To get permission for the airbag to be disabled was another drama in itself, I had to get a letter from my specialist saying that an airbag deploying onto me would be dangerous and it should be removed, that letter had to be sent to the RTA for them to approve the airbag disabler to be installed, this took around 3 weeks to wait for a response.
We used my old foot rest, but it couldn't be secured the same as in the old car so a new bracket had to be made, this can be removed for able bodied people to drive my car.
My old seat was used, this is just a toddler child seat with the seatbelts removed, it gets secured to my seat with a strap, then to make it blend in with the car, I put a car seat cover over the top of it, I find this holds it in place better too, this can also be removed if someone else needs to drive my car.
Hand Controls- The hand controls had to be repurchased as new, these are attached to the brake and accelerator, the handle is pulled back to accelerate and pushed forward to break. There are also some indicator switches attached to the handle so I can indicate without taking my hand off my accelerator. The car can be driven by an able bodied person without removing these as the hand control does not change the operation of the pedals.
The same steering wheel knob was attached easily and my dad attached a strap to my boot so that I could pull it closed myself, without reaching up, this made it a lot easier.
If you have any questions about prices or anything, please ask me as I have varied personal knowledge of modifying a car. Almost any car can be converted, though pricey, they can do amazing things to give mobility to disabled people.
The company I went to is Problem Management Engineering, they are situated at Hornsby Heights, their number is (02) 9482 2808, they are the only Sydney based company that I am aware of, although I have heard that Para-Quad have similar products and services.
As the cost of converting a car is so high, if money is an issue, I only recommend buying a car that you plan to keep for many years. I had my first car for 8 years and will be planning on having my new one for many more